Puffins– who doesn’t love a Puffin or two. On our Scottish trip (hence the breaks from Wi-fi and from blogs) we met many people from across various continents who had come to Dunnet Head (mainland) and Orkney principally to see Puffins, and were very excited to do so. These photos from Dunnet Head are showing how Puffin mates greet each other when they meet up on their grassy headlands, where they burrow their nests or use old rabbit burrows. They bill-rub together. Although quite dumpy birds with small wings they can travel up to 55mph. to do so they have to flap their wings at a great rate of knots! Conditions: Drier than England! (Though not today!) Temperature: Max 10 Min 10c.
Lapwing are the UK birds with the most local names. We grew up with them as Peewits from their call, but maybe my favourite is Peasiewheep! I covered their flight display yesterday so today something about their behaviour on the ground. Being ground-nesting birds, their eggs and young are very vulnerable to predation by Gulls, Corvids, Foxes etc. They lay their highly camouflaged eggs on a slight rise so that the adults get the best view across the landscape, and they fly at any predators and mob them as soon as they come within range. They also feign injury, by lowering one wing so it appears broken, moving away from the nest to lure predators away and they even try to mislead human observers by making visits to false nest-sights. This behaviour led them to be called “full of trecherye” by Chaucer and, in the misogynistic language of the 17th century, ‘Plover’ was used as a word for ‘deceitful’ women. Their eggs were heavily harvested in the past and astonishingly, given the Lapwing is on the Red (Endangered) List, a licence can still be attained for egg-collection, though this
happens rarely. It is a shame more farmers don’t restore habitat for them as they eat many insect-pests. I love their punky crests and petrol-coloured backs. Conditions: Dry and cloudy. Temperature: Max 14 Min 6C.
Displaying Lapwing: We had the special joy of watching the dramatic flight displays of several pairs of Lapwing at Frampton Marsh RSPB reserve this week, and you may be able to catch this on moorland, farmland or wetland, though Lapwing numbers have reduced so much it is on the Red List for endangered species. The pairing display involves vertiginous climbs, dances on high so close the pair almost touch, and precipitous, tumbling falls back to earth, stalling just before they touch and swoop back up. This is accompanied by the female tilting her body, and the male making what has been described as a creaking-gate call. Because in these displays the primary wing feathers are outstretched (see photo’s) you can also hear a wonderful ‘whumping’ of the wing-beats- altogether spectacular. More about Lapwing in a couple of days. Conditions: Blustery showers. Temperature: Max 9 Min 6C.
Lackey Moth Caterpillars and nests– I remember seeing these some years in the Hawthorn hedges on my walk to Primary School, and also one year with mum in Devon, in an area of scrubland on the coast, both favourite habitats for this moth, unremarkable when adult but easily spotted when in larval form, like this. The eggs are laid in bands round Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Apple, Willow and some other trees and bushes, overwintering before hatching in spring. The larvae spin these dense, silky webs and live en masse, emerging and growing rapidly before dispersing and pupating. More common in the south and on coasts, we saw these, (with their orange and blue markings and hairy bodies) this weekend at Frampton Marsh RSPB reserve in Lincolnshire, emerging from their ‘tent’ silk nests. (Not to be confused with the potentially dangerous Processional Moth that can cause serious allergic reactions). Conditions: Cooler with some showers. Temperature: Max 14 Min 5 C.
Wave Breakers at Pett Levels- a recent visit back to this unusual scene on Pett Level beach, Sussex, led me to a research paper that showed the dense wooden posts are the remains of an attempt to deal with what will become an increasing problem of rising sea levels along our coasts. Behind Pett beach is low-lying pasture, reclaimed since medieval times but now well below sea-level, and breached by ingress of the sea in 1930. A dense network of ‘Wave Breakers’, wooden posts sometimes inter-woven with faggots of brush, were an attempt to reinforce and raise the shingle beach and protect the land. This approach has since been abandoned, as it was found to be incapable of holding back the rising sea. A sea wall has been built, leaving this dramatic, sculptural pattern of eroding posts on the beach. It is clearly not
only me who finds it fascinating- the beach was used as part of David Bowie’s video fro his 1980 hit ‘Ashes to Ashes’!. Conditions: Still, dry spell of weather. Temperature: Max 10 Min 5C.
Dunlin: New Year’s Day was brilliant, bright weather down south and we walked Pett Levels beach, being treated to a close view of Dunlin, a small sandpiper that overwinters on our shores. Dunlin’s winter plumage is much paler than when breeding, so here is a chance to get familiar with it: about the size of a starling, Dunlin have a dark, slightly down-curved bill, and in winter, pale grey back with white belly and a little grey on the side of the breast. ( in breeding plumage they develop stronger colours and a dark belly). They may be confused with the larger, stockier Knot at this time of year. The BTO do a great video to help you spot the differences.In flight, Dunlin have a silvery-white appearance- see the photo’s. Best seen feeding just as the tide goes out or comes in over sand. Conditions: Bright, colder spell. Temperature: Max 5 Min -1
All birds need to wash to keep their feathers in good condition and Mute Swans are a dramatic and accessible (being on many lakes in local parks) way to observe just how vigorous and thorough this process needs to be. A family of five Mute Swans were washing recently (alongside some synchronised swimming Mallards, as you will see) and the photo’s show how they separate their feathers so that water gets to every part. Surprisingly little research has been done into this process but when birds are deprived of water, they have been shown to be much clumsier in flight. Regular washing is essential to condition the feathers and helps reduce damage from mites, lice and bacteria. This is why it is worth having even a little bird bath in your garden if you don’t have open water nearby. Conditions: Alternating grey and bright days. Temperature: Max 5 Min 0C.